Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Building a Reception

Many factors – almost too many to mention – go into creating a successful reception for your event’s participants but there are some key ones to keep in mind. Let’s take a quick look at some of the main factors you need to address in order to set the stage for a successful reception.

Define your goals for the event
Consider this to be your “big picture” starting point – what do you want to accomplish with the reception? Your goals for the event will help create the framework around which everything else will be built. And, they will help you answer questions that will come up along the way. The timing of the event, menu choices, themes, and entertainment options, as well as many other details should all work together in support of the goals for your reception. Even a goal of “we just want to have fun” will help define the event and guide you through the planning process.

Estimate the number of guests
You need know how many people are expected to attend – for planning purposes if nothing else. Is every attendee invited, or only a select few? While this does not replace RSVPs for creating your BEO guarantees, it will give you an idea of the size of event you wish to hold. That information will be of great importance to you during the site selection phase of planning.

When and where will your reception be held – and for how long?
Yes, we all know that receptions are typically held in the evening, but will it take place before or after dinner? Or will it replace dinner? As I discussed in this post, the timing and duration of a reception will affect how much people will eat. Before dinner, people will eat more (if dinner is provided). If you intend for the reception to replace dinner, you had better be prepared with more substantial food options and plenty of it! As for the where, it is generally preferable to host a reception near to where dinner will be served so guests can easily flow from one right into the other. If dinner is not served, you have more options available to you. One more note here: a reception held immediately following a general session will draw more people than one held later in the evening with a break in between sessions and the reception. A late-night reception will typically draw even fewer as many may decide that sleep is more attractive than your event. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and you need to keep the habits of your attendees in mind when planning when and where your event will be held.

Will there be entertainment or a program during the reception?
The presence or absence of an agenda for a reception can make a huge difference in where you hold the event and what kind of equipment you will need for it. A speaker of any kind, even if only for announcements, will need a microphone at minimum. A band or other performing group will have their own AV needs as well that you will need to take into account. Furthermore, including a program of events with a speaker requires people to stop mingling in order to hear the presentation. Similarly, an entertainer will also draw people away from other activities that may be happening at the reception. Not that these are bad things, mind you – they are just items of note to keep in mind as you are selecting the venue and planning the reception.

Choosing the menu!
Once you have the basics out of the way (who, what, where, when, and why), you can sit down to start planning your menus. This is the part that most people like the most and who can blame them? Food is very personal to people and the right choice of menu items can make a statement that is as important as any other aspect of your event. I won’t even attempt to tell you what you should serve, though, as those selections should be tailored as much as possible to the likes and wants of your group and, as I have said many times before, knowing your group is the key to a great event. One group may prefer sushi, while another wants mini corn dogs and sliders. The only right choice is the one your guests will enjoy.

Modifying reception service
OK – this one isn’t really a factor you need to nail down before building your reception. In fact, it is usually done late in the process as you try to get more bang out of your buck. However, knowing what service options exist before you start can be helpful to know as you make other decisions along the way. So, here are a few more posts with additional information for you (if you’re interested): Limiting Menu Options, Open Bars, Ordering Items on Consumption, and Food Distribution and Service Options.

There is one more “factor” that needs mentioning here: the guests. Unfortunately, you can’t really control whether or not they have a good time. Nor can you control whether or not they attend or if they go along with the program as you envisioned it. However, their participation is crucial to making your reception a success. So doing your best to present them with an event that they want to attend and will rave about for years afterwards will go a long way to making your receptions a success for you and for them.

As you can see, there is much that goes into building a successful reception – and this is just the tip of the iceberg! There are two final keys I’d like to leave you with: 1) think ahead – answer as many questions about your event as you can before you begin the actual “building of your reception – and 2) work closely with your partners, be they the hotel, outside caterers, AV companies, or your speakers and entertainers, to make sure that everyone’s issues are addressed as early as possible in the process. Using these keys should help you get off to a great start in producing a successful reception and will make dealing with any changes down the road easier to manage.

Good Luck!

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises